by Doug Carpenter


Let There Be Light(s)!

When “it” hits you, trust me. You’ll know it. You just won’t necessarily know right away why. It takes a little time to figure that part out. Fortunately, it helps that you’re not completely in the dark as you’re doing it. Because conveniently enough, when one of them hits you, a light goes on.

The “light,” of course, is purely metaphorical — which I’m pretty sure you already knew. But the “enlightenment” that comes with it is the real thing. In fact, it’s the one thing that takes the pain [...again, metaphorical...] out of being hit by all the “its” that are [...for want of a less ominous-sounding description...] out there, cruising around, looking — quite specifically — for you.

Now, I don’t mean that in the “demon-possessed 18-wheel truck that for some spooky reason is hell bent on running you down” sort of way that over the years more than a few wannabe Stephen Kings have turned into cinematic cash cows. But the fact is, there are a lot of “its” out there — each with our respective names printed, figuratively, in huge letters across their gleaming grillwork — silently lurking on the shadowy edges of our consciousness ready to leap out and yell “Ha, ha. Told you so!” — or “Didn’t see that coming, did you?” — or simply “Guess what, smart ass. You were wrong.”

As uncomfortable as such pull-back-the-curtain scenes are for virtually anyone who’s ever been in the cast when life stages one, they’re especially unwelcome for members of the Baby Boom Generation, who — not entirely undeservedly — have earned a reputation for being exceptionally bad at admitting that they’re wrong about — well — pretty much anything. [The stuff we got caught being wrong about, anyway.]

It’s not like we were always right. We were just really good at finding ways to [...how should I put this?...] postpone admitting it until having been wrong no longer bothered us or at least until we’d come up with a plausible excuse for the mistake. Obviously, the best-case scenario would’ve been to totally stall until circumstances actually turned around so much that we ended up being retroactively right in the first place. [That didn’t happen as often as we would’ve liked, but we’re still pulling for a few of those to come through.]

Sometimes, it was simply a matter of holding out until the world got tired of riding us about our bad judgment and moved on to gleefully rubbing some other generation’s collective noses in the fact that they were embarrassingly and inexcusably — uhhhh — you know. [Wow. Even now, just saying the “w-word” is unbelievably hard. You’d think we’d get better with practice, wouldn’t you?]

Wait. Who am I kidding? How much practice could we have gotten? After all, we were Boomers. We basically treated being right as our birthright. [Clearly, we weren’t. But good luck convincing us of that.] Sooner or later, though, reality will catch up with and overtake any amount of wishful thinking, forcing even the most determined deniers of the truth to face the proverbial “facts” — which through the years have continued ambushing us at the most unexpected and inconvenient times.

And every time another one of them “hits” us, we know it instantly — because inside our heads, one of life’s equally-proverbial “light bulbs of realization” is invariably turned on. But as tempting as it may be to coolly slip on our psychological Foster Grants and ignore them, we do so at our peril. Because they’re not there just to provide mental mood lighting. They’re there to illuminate a path we’re meant to follow, even if it leads us to places that we’d just as soon not go.

No doubt among the least popular of these destinations is the one where the “light” going on signals the moment you realize — for the first time and to your abject horror — that your parents [...dramatic pause...] were right. What were they right about? Well, it’s fairly likely it was something that probably would’ve been obvious if you’d given their point even a moment’s thought. [Teenager? Thought? Seriously?]

But it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that now that you know, you get to spend the rest of your life trying to forget just how wrong you were. [How insistently, unyieldingly wrong.] And possibly even more challenging, deciding when, or even if, to admit it to them — or for that matter to yourself, since you probably only think you have but really haven’t.

If you’re fortunate enough to still have your parents with you, you have to know on some level that they’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. As I’m sure you’d expect, in the interim, they’ve continued to occasionally give you lovingly well-intentioned pieces of advice — assuming you let them. [Old habits really do die hard.]

Some of them you’ve undoubtedly taken, while others you dismissed [...although probably nowhere near as ungraciously as back you-know-when.] This is particularly likely if you had children of your own, since it sets you up perfectly to get the parental payback you’ve had coming for so long when they finally exercise their score-settling grandparental right to completely ignore your complaints about their behavior. Just think how much fun it’ll be for your kids to witness somebody else’s intergenerational power struggle. [Really educational, too, I’ll bet.]

Relatively speaking, compared with family-style realizations that come intimately wrapped up in complications like those, you’d think the ones that strictly involve you and your private thoughts would be easier to process. Easier, perhaps, but certainly not simple, since the size of every internal “Aha! Moment” bulb that lights up is essentially proportional to the significance of the insight that sets it off.

It’s kind of like the difference between the tiny, burn-out-ridiculously-quickly twinkle bulbs they put in your cheaper strings of holiday lights and those big, hot, circuit breaker-tripping flood lamps people train on their rooftop-sized, three-dimensional, animatronic Santa, sleigh and reindeer displays. Comparatively, the size of your brain bulbs depends on how much light it’s going to take for you to see what the time has come for you to see.

Little bulbs light up in there all the time, often in connection with mundane, day-to-day annoyances — most of which largely occur day-to-day because you continue to do the things that cause them day after day. That is, until the one day that “it” will suddenly hit you, as you realize that — for the fifth time that week [...and it’ll probably only be a Wednesday...] — you’ve left the house [...gasp...] without your cellphone.

Only this time, as you’re pushing past the immense irritation you’re feeling to get to the mental list of all the people you now won’t be able to call, text to or post and/or tweet about, the little voice inside your head [...which, ironically, you usually put on “hold” when it tries to get your attention...] interrupts to point out how much more productive and even personally satisfying it would be if you were to actually communicate with those people face to face.

It was, you realize, a truth that had been right in front of you all along but hidden by the now-dispelled darkness. And in that moment, you see the light — which for a change is not the one that blinks to tell you that someone you really needed to talk to has left you a voice message that, sadly, you may still never find the time to listen to. [Apparently the bulb knew something you didn’t.]

The higher-wattage bulbs are generally reserved for moments that coax bigger epiphanies out of their hiding places in your subconscious. And as you might imagine, a lot of them tend not to be the sort that are likely to brighten your day. In fact, they’re usually the ones that have you wishing they came with built-in switches so you could turn them off as soon as they go on.

But that would kind of defeat their purpose, which ultimately is to draw us — even if only a little ways — out of the darkness that prevents us from seeing things we might shortsightedly think we’re better off not seeing. Like the fact that our child’s childhood won’t last forever — a sobering reality that becomes clearly visible to us thanks to the glowing bulb hovering brightly above us as we awkwardly try to initiate a conversation about birth control with our somehow-suddenly-teenaged daughter.

The things that precipitate the rest of life’s “let there be light” insights aren’t really hard to predict. We all know, for example, that everybody dies [...by which, you understand, I mean someday and not any time soon.] But while it’s hardly a smack yourself on the forehead because you “coulda had a V-8” moment, there inevitably does come a point when you experience the undeniable realization that — as unfair as it may seem — they’re not going to make an exception for you.

There’ll be a lot more bulbs lighting up before we’re done. But at least we can look forward to the enlightenment the experience offers us every time one goes on. Sooner or later, of course, one is going to go out. Fortunately, that only happens once — and the “it” that hits you in that moment should be a doozy.

© 2017 Doug Carpenter

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